This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 307: Writer/Director Adam Egypt Mortimer On Daniel Isn’t Real (2019).
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #307 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer- director Adam Egypt Mortimer. I interviewed him a while back about his film Some Kind of Hate, that was SYS Episode Number #92. I will link to that in the show notes. He’s back with another thriller film called Daniel Isn’t Real. We dig into this film, how we got it produced. It’s another inspiring story. This is a script that he had floating around for quite a long time before he was finally able to get it produced. So we dig into all of that and how he finally got into production, so stay tuned for that interview.
If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast, so they’re very much appreciated. Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast and then just look for Episode Number #307. If you want my free guide-How To Sell a Screenplay in Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
It’s completely free, you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional logline and query letter and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really, it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. Quick few words about what I’m working on. We’re ramping up production on my horror mystery thriller feature. We’re going to shoot in December, so we’re putting everything together now, obviously been a very busy last couple of weeks.
I record these podcasts now about two weeks before they publish, so the day this publishes is actually our first day of principal photography, December 2nd so I’m actually recording this on November 14th. So a couple of weeks out just trying to get ahead of it a little bit, as I said, since we’re gonna be going into principal photography, obviously I won’t have time to record any podcast episodes during that time period. So then we’ll be shooting for three weeks, December 2nd and then we wrap December 21st. We’re gonna do five days the first week and then two six-day weeks, so it’ll be 17 days of actual shooting, so wish me luck. Anyways, needless to say that’s the main thing I’ve been working on over the last few weeks and probably will continue to work on even after we wrap, getting everything ready for post-production.
That’s what I’m working on. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing writer, director Adam Egypt Mortimer. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Adam to The Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me.
Adam: It is awesome to talk to you. Thanks for having me.
Ashley: You were on the SYS podcast back on Episode Number #92, so I will refer people to that. They can go back and hear more about sort of your background and how you got into the industry. And then today let’s just dive into your latest feature film Daniel Isn’t Real. To start out, maybe you can give us a quick pitch or a logline for that film. What is this movie all about?
Adam: Well, it’s about a 19-year-old kid named Luke who is… he’s a college student and he’s really struggling. He’s struggling with home life because his mother is kind of in a difficult situation and he’s having panic attacks and he’s hallucinating. So amidst all that he brings back his imaginary friend that he had when he was a child. The imaginary friend helps him sort of get through some of these issues but then becomes kind of greedy and reveals a dark truth about himself and wants to take over Luke’s life. And of course, that imaginary friend is named Daniel.
Ashley: I got you. Let’s talk about the genesis of this project. It’s based on a book by your friend Brian Deleeuw. Maybe you can talk us through that collaboration a little bit. How does something like that come about? Does he have a number of books that you’re always reading and kinda you guys are deciding which one would be the most cinematic? Maybe just walk us through that process of how sort of deciding on this story and getting the book and then turning it into a screenplay.
Adam: Yeah, it was actually… so about eight years ago, I met Brian at a… I just met him at like a dinner party, it was somebody’s birthday. He had just moved to Los Angeles and I really liked him as a person. He had recently published a novel and I was sort of so taken with him and sort of the premise that he described that I read the novel that weekend. And I called him up on like a Monday or Tuesday after and said, “I really like this book. I wanna try to turn it into a movie.” And he said, “That’s cool, that sounds great. Like I just moved to LA and I wanna learn how to become a screenwriter. What if we work on it together?” And so we immediately started a collaboration, just sort of moments after having met each other where we were adapting his novel.
What happened was, we… it was a really good collaboration, we were getting along really well. After we had finished maybe a… our first draft of it that we felt like was a good version, like our first polished draft, I said, “You know man, I don’t actually know how we’re gonna get this movie financed. It’s totally crazy. It’s very expensive. So let’s write another movie.” That was when we decided to write Some Kind of Hate, which was sort of something we had decided to do in order to make a very low budget movie to sort of prove my filmmaking chops so we could come back around and make Daniel. Ultimately over an eight-year period that turned out to be true.
Ashley: I see. Okay. So this was actually the first project you guys worked on, but not the first project you got finished.
Adam: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And [inaudible 00:05:56] screenplays together and we’re writing a TV show together but this was the very first thing we did. And at the time it was the only novel of his that he had written, he now has a second novel. But since we started working together, he has really focused on being a screenwriter.
Ashley: Okay. Perfect. Let’s talk about that just quickly, just talk about the collaboration a little bit. What does that actually look like? And especially in a case like this, I’d be curious to kinda hear your thoughts. When Brian is coming into this with a pretty clear idea about the story since he’s written a fully fleshed out novel, what are some of the changes? And just as a director, how do you navigate the making changes to what he’s already sort of thought through and what may be some of the things he really likes?
Adam: Yeah, I mean, he approached it with a pretty relaxed attitude about what would be… I think that once we sort of initially talked about it and felt like we were both looking to make the same kind of movie, he did not feel too stressed about making changes to the book. He sort of has that attitude of like, well, the book is out there in the world and nothing can change it. So whatever we do with the movie doesn’t disrupt that. Right off the bat we made a very big decision that changed from the book because in the novel it’s written from Daniel’s point of view. So the imaginary friend is actually telling the story and so he has his own very particular first person narrative voice and point of view about reality and point of view about humans.
But we felt like in a movie we really want it to be centered on the real person’s point of view. So that was like a major change right off the bat. And over the years of working on the novel, we would constantly write new ideas, change things around, sometimes refer back to the book. But like usually sort of once we had it outlined based on the book and started to make our changes we didn’t really go back to the novel too often over the time. I think, probably our first step was kind of breaking out the events of the novel and we did that as, you know, your kind of index card situation lined up into acts and all that, and then started looking at what was… how does that fit into a movie and what needs to change.
I mean, the novel had a whole very long sequence that takes place in high school. Our movie has like about five minutes that almost feels like a flashback at the very beginning, a prologue of when they’re little kids. And then it takes place in college. The novel had like a hundred pages of them as kids and then another 150 in high school, then finally gets to college, so there was… Novels exist in this kind of like epic time structure and we had to immediately figure out a way to compress that down.
Ashley: In terms of the… Have you done some novels to screenplays before? Have you done some other adaptations like this?
Adam: Around the time I met Brian, I was in… I hadn’t made a movie yet. I was coming off of doing music videos and things like that, and I was trying to figure out how to get a feature film made. So I was often reading, I was reading a lot of material looking if I could find something that would make a movie. And so prior to this one, I had worked on a project based on a novel called The Shotgun Opera by Victor Gischler, and that’s like a kind of action crime story. I collaborated with Victor. He let me take the rights to his novel for a while and I developed the screenplay. And I wrote that one on my own.
So I had already had that experience, like you say, of adapting a novel. That was something that I’d sort of been very into and was trying to figure out what to look for in a book and how to turn it into a movie.
Ashley: Let’s talk about sort of the actual collaboration. You mentioned that you were kind of just basically going through the novel and creating the outline using the index cards. I assume something like that, are you guys in the same room? Maybe just sort of describe how this works. You’re in the same room kicking around ideas, you’re in separate rooms using Skype. And then ultimately once you get through the outlining stage, how do you go about actually writing the scripts? Does he take a pass and then you take a pass? Do you split up scenes? Maybe just give us a little insight into that process.
Adam: Yeah, it’s funny. It’s something that we really kind of wind up making up as we go along. What the process is gonna to be to such a degree that when we were working on our fourth screenplay together just a couple of months ago, we finished an outline and then I remember one day Brian had said something along the lines of, “I can’t remember. How do we write together?” And we were… so we had to figure out… remember, okay, in the past three movies we’ve already written, was it the same room, was it Skype, whatever? So there was something very fluid in the way we would work. But especially at the very beginning stages of this project, we were in the same room.
He bought a special corkboard and index cards that we were sort of like on his floor moving things around, that sort of thing. And then I vividly remember he had this like beautiful dining room table that we would sit at this table and that actually influenced me to buy a table like that of my own in my house when I moved because I was like, “This is a great way to work. Like this big table you can kind of spread out. You both sit at the table.” And then I think once we got sort of past the card stage, we were on the laptop. Sometimes…. A lot of times we would both use our laptops even in the same room and like connect them over like a shared IP so we could share a screen.
And we would do things like, I start writing a scene, kinda blow through a couple of pages of a scene and then I watch him revise it and change it around. We’re sort of discussing it that way like we’re working really back and forth. I think that there’s… it’s sort of like more shared space towards the beginning and then we were able to move on later in revisions where we might send things to each other back and forth. I’ll work on something one day and send it back to him. But we really wind up spending most of the collaborative time together either in physical space or sort of shared… sharing screens.
Ashley: I got you. How do you approach screenplay structure? Are you kind of a Sid Field, Blake Snyder, very much a template or are you a little more intuitive? Maybe talk us through that process of just structuring your screenplay.
Adam: On the beginning process of Daniel, we were definitely looking at sort of books about how to do a structure of a movie and in… with the index cards situation, we were… I think we did in fact look at Save The Cat to sort of get a sense of like what are all these… like, what is the movie? And then probably after the initial outline, I’m not sure we ever looked at anything like that again, either for our other movies or during the revision process of Daniel. I think the most important thing to me, because now I’m starting to see a movie not just as a document of the screenplay but as something I have to film. I think the most important structural moment for me when I’m thinking about a movie is the midpoint.
It’s like, what do we mean when we talk about a story that is going along in a certain direction and sort of building its momentum, and building its theme, and then you get to a place that really is more or less exactly the middle of the movie and things spin around in a totally new and crazy way. I find that to be the most important part of structuring. Although when I go back and look at a movie and try to figure how to shoot it, I’m breaking things into certain kind of sequences that might be similar to acts. But yeah, there’s something about the midpoint that I think is really a magical structuring element, and the midpoint becomes something that’s both this emotional aspect in the writing that’s important and visually I’m thinking like, “How am I gonna signify that we’re at like the most crucial turning point of the story?”
That combination of thinking has been increasingly an influence on me. But yeah, that… I mean, that first outline definitely had all of the things that you would find in Save The Cat, most of which I can’t remember what they are anymore. But yes, closing in and the Whiff of Death, all that. I mean, look everything I did like I feel like the whole… any movie I write, the whole movie has the Whiff of Death and the bad guys closing in, so it’s like, how much more whiff do we need man?
Ashley: Yeah, exactly. Let’s take… So you have a script that you guys are happy with, what were those next steps? Maybe take us through that process. How did you ultimately find a producer and ultimately get the funding to get this into production?
Adam: Yeah, so like I said, we got to a point on it where I said, “This movie is awesome and we’re really happy with it. Let’s try to figure out what to do with it.” And we did. We tried to talk to contacts we knew and I had a manager at that particular time that we gave it to, and nobody really knew what to do with it. We got some passes. It just seemed sort of right off the bat, it was a little bit discouraging, right? You have this thing you’re excited about and then it just kinda drops out there, and I know so many people have that experience. The really crucial part of the strategy was to make a whole other movie.
And so we wrote Some Kind of Hate hoping that it would be like, okay, we’re gonna write something so low budget that a few months from now we’re gonna shoot this and like, bada bing, bada boom. But that did not… that movie took years to make even though it had a budget of only $200,000 it still took us years to get that made. Even when we were working in that movie, I had heard about the existence of SpectreVision. When they first launched, they were called Woodshed. They had this mandate about kind of interesting horror movies that sounded so much like what I was interested in and I was trying to get in touch with them. I think I found some email addresses and I was emailing them and never heard back.
Cut to 2015, I think it was 2015 when we premiered Some Kind Of Hate at the Stanley Film Festival that’s now changed its name to the Overlook Film Festival. The first day I was there I saw Josh Waller, who’s one of the producers from SpectreVision in the restaurant eating breakfast and I walked up to him and said, “Hey man, I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for years and I have a movie that’s playing here. I would love if you could check it out.” And he had his laptop and he kind of looked for my name and he was like, “Oh yeah, I see all these emails from you that I’d never responded to.” But he then saw the movie and he really liked the movie and he told all of his partners to see it too.
And so they all… it kind of worked out exactly as we hoped it would in this kind of very specific way where these producers who I was very interested in liked the movie we made. Then they said, “What else do you have?” And I gave them the Daniel script and they responded super positively to that. Then we had several years together of developing that and trying to figure out how to get that made, and ultimately, they were the ones who were able to find the financing for it.
Ashley: Yeah. So how did you happen to know what this guy looked like? You had done enough sort of due diligence that… or you knew he was gonna be there and so you were kind of on the lookout for him?
Adam: Yeah, I think so. I think I knew that they would be there. I think it’s possible somebody pointed out to me who he was and so then I got up the nerve to approach him. It’s funny to think about getting up the nerve to approach somebody and then years later you’re like in the trenches together making a project and sweating and smelling together. But yeah, I don’t remember exactly the specific moment of how I knew it was him, but I… as a company and very interested in… these are people who I’d been trying to get in touch with for such a long time. To be like, these are the producers that I really like, and now I happen to be in the same room with them in this kind of shared…
It’s not like I was going up to him when he was away on vacation or something. It was like we were… This is why film festivals can be such a powerful tool for developing your relationships and developing your career. It’s like, he was there to show his movie and to hang out and meet people and to see other movies. And it was like… so it was a very organic, natural way for me to approach them and say, “Hey man, check out my work.” As opposed to if I ran into him at the gym and gave him a USB drive and said, “Hey man, watch my movie.” It would be… you know what I mean? So that in itself is a strong indication of why it’s good to get out there. If you’re not making a feature, make your short film, go to the film festivals, meet the people that you wanna be working with and create your community that way.
Ashley: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, so very, very sound advice. I hope people listen to that. How can people see Daniel Isn’t Real? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Adam: Yeah, it comes out in December [inaudible 00:20:00], which is pretty soon. It’s gonna be playing in some theaters across the USA. I know that in Los Angeles it will be playing at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Downtown, and in New York it’ll be at the Cinema Village. But on that same day it comes out on all the pay streaming, pay-per-view. It will be on iTunes, it’ll be on Amazon, all of those kinds of things. And then a few months after that, next year it’ll be on Shudder, will be our exclusive streaming partner. So, won’t be on Netflix, we’ll be on Shutter but…
Ashley: Okay. Perfect. And what’s the…
Adam: I think you can get it, preorder on iTunes now and one thing, it’s always super helpful if people buy it in advance because then other people know it exists.
Ashley: Yeah. For sure. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing I’ll roundup for the show notes?
Adam: Yeah, absolutely. On Twitter I’m @adamegypt and I try to be very active on Twitter, talking about my process and like how I approach filmmaking and I really try to answer people’s questions and have a communication there. And I’m also on Instagram @adamegypt666.
Ashley: Perfect. Sounds good. Well, Adam, I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today. Good luck with this film and I look forward to interviewing you again on your next film.
Adam: Thank you so much. This was awesome. I appreciate it.
Ashley: A quick plug for the SYS Screenwriting Analysis Service. It’s a really economical way to get a high-quality professional evaluation on your screenplay. When you buy our three pack, you get evaluations at just $67 per script for feature films and just $55 for teleplays. All the readers have professional experience reading for studios, production companies, contests and agencies. You can read a short bio on each reader on our website and you can pick the reader who you think is the best fit for your script. Turnaround time is usually just a few days but rarely more than a week. The readers will evaluate your script on six key factors- concept, character, structure and marketability, tone and overall craft, which includes formatting, spelling and grammar.
Every script will get a grade of pass, consider or recommend, which should help you roughly understand where your script might rank if you were to submit it to a production company or agency. We can provide an analysis on features or television scripts. We also do proofreading without any analysis. We will also look at a treatment or outline and give you the same analysis on it. So if you’re looking to vet some of your project ideas, this is a great way to do it. We will also write your logline and synopsis for you. You can add this logline and synopsis writing service to an analysis or you can simply purchase this service as a standalone product. As a bonus, if your screenplay gets a recommend or a consider from one of our readers, you get to list the screenplay in the SYS Select database, which is a database for producers to find screenplays and a big part of our SYS Select program.
Producers are in the database searching for material on a daily basis, so it’s another great way to get your material in front of them. As a further bonus, if your script gets a recommend from one of our readers, your screenplay will get included in our monthly Best Of newsletter. Each month we send out a newsletter that highlights the best screenplays that have come through our script analysis service. This is monthly newsletter that goes out to our list of over 400 producers who are actively looking for material, so again, this is another great way to get your material out there. So if you want a professional evaluation of your screenplay at a very reasonable price, check out www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants.
On the next episode of the podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing writer director Lisa van Dam-Bates. She just did a cool horror film called Marla Mae. She doesn’t live in Los Angeles and made this movie without a ton of experience. She’s just someone who’s ambitious and went out there and made things happen for herself. So we dig into this project and how she was able to bring it to life, so keep an eye out for that episode next week. To wrap things up today, I just want to touch on a few things from today’s interview with Adam. Really listen to what he said about meeting the producer at the film festival. I keep harping on this but film festivals really are a great opportunity for any filmmaker, screenwriters, directors, really anybody involved in film.
They’re just a great opportunity to network, to meet people and just get to know other people in the filmmaking community. And these things as Adam can show you, they actually can lead to substantial things, they can lead to some substantial projects. I often preach things like going to AFM. American Film Market is the film market that takes place in Santa Monica in November. And it can work. I mean, I’ve had people on the podcast, I’ve interviewed them that have gone to AFM and made connections. It can definitely work, but it’s not quite right. The producers who are at AFM are really there to sell their finished films. So sure, you might be able to meet with them, maybe if your pitch is good, they might listen, but it’s still a little bit of an odd fit, because they’re not really there to meet screenwriters, they’re there to sell their finished films.
So just kinda keep that in mind. I’m also a big proponent of my own email and fax blast service, and again, this can work, but you’re reaching out to someone who may or may not wanna hear from you. So it requires a ton of emails and may actually annoy a few people. But film festivals, they really are a celebration of film. What Adam describes has very much been my experience at film festivals too. People are there to meet other filmmakers. The producers, the directors, the screenwriters, the actors, everybody below the line talent. Everybody is there just to celebrate film network with other filmmakers and just talk about their war stories.
Everybody has those. In poker parliaments it’s the bad beat story. Everybody has those hard knock stories of how they got their film made. And it’s just fun to hear other people’s and share your own and again, just be part of the community. And it’s very, very common what Adam described, where you meet someone at a film festival and they tell you about their film, “Oh, my film’s screening tomorrow at three o’clock.” “Oh great. My film is screening today at seven o’clock.” And you kind of just… you connect on that level and maybe you go see their film and they go see your film. That’s again, just a very common occurrence at film festivals. And that’s sort of the, that’s the attitude that people have going to film festivals.
It’s not like AFM where producers are kinda trying to hide from screenwriters. It’s not someone sending them an email in the middle of their workday, they’re trying to get things done and this query comes in. And it may or may not be a good fit for them, it may or may not be the right time for them to read it. You’re kinda trying to just insert yourself into that situation. But again, film festivals really are just a place to network and meet and everybody that’s there is there and they wanna meet other people and they wanna meet you and you wanna meet them. So what Adam is saying is just is, seems to me is really, really a smart plan, is look at the directories, because film festivals will publish, usually on their website,
They’ll publish a directory at least a week, two weeks, a month out before the film festivals, they will list the films that are playing. You can typically click on them and go over to IMDb. You can see who’s involved, the producers, the actors, the directors, all the cast, crew. And getting to know these people who the film fest, who the film festival is, who’s gonna be at the film festival and doing that due diligence and kind of understanding, okay, I want to go see this film. And almost all the screenings, again depends on the film festival somewhat. But if you get a good film festival where filmmakers actually show up, if the film makers are in the vicinity, obviously they’ll be at their screening.
So if there’s a movie screening that you like, that’s a great opportunity to go meet that filmmaker. Maybe there’s a director, maybe there’s a producer, you just talk to them, say, “Hey, I’m a screenwriter, I’ve got a couple of scripts.” Maybe just get to know them, just get their email and just start a conversation. But the bottom line is, that’s what the film festivals are for. It’s not like you just kind of you’re knocking on someone’s door who may or may not wanna even talk to you. If people are at a film festival, they’re pretty open to talking and just talking about the industry, talking about stories, talking about their experiences in the business. So just a real good community feel.
At least all the film festivals I’ve been to have very much been that friendly, fun, and a great place to actually meet people without feeling like you’re intruding on them. Almost every single film festival out there needs volunteers. So even if you don’t have a finished film in the festival, if there’s a local festival near you just go to it, get in your car and just go. See a few screenings, try and go to a few of the… they’ll typically have cocktail parties and mixers and stuff. Try and go to some of those. Just pay a few bucks, drive down there, go to them. If the festival looks halfway decent, maybe for the next year, volunteer, become a volunteer at it. Or maybe just try and produce a short film, talk to the programmers, get to know some of those people in your local festival.
Talk to them and maybe do a short film, submit that next year, maybe volunteer at that festival next year. But whatever you do just get out there and again, just start being a part of your film community. Building that film community that you can be a part of really is the best thing you can do for your career. And everybody at these film festivals, again, is trying to get to that next level. They’re trying to move up the ladder too, and that’s what you wanna find. And you see a film that you like by a director, get to know him, get him on your radar, even if it doesn’t… even if there’s not like an immediate connection. Hopefully you’ve shaken his hand, gotten to know him a little bit, and maybe down the road you’ll see him at another festival and there’ll be that connection.
You just don’t know. But the bottom line is, again, festivals, they’re fun, they’re easy, they’re relatively inexpensive, assuming you don’t have to travel long ways and there is some real networking possibilities that it can lead to. Anyways, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.